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Coping with Polygamy: A First Wife’s Jihad

Umm Janna shares some insight from her stellar book, Coping with Polygamy: A First Wife’s Jihad

There is a hadith that says that The Prophet (SAW) said: “No man loves another for Allah’s sake without his Lord who is Great and Glorious honoring him.” (Ahmed) And “The action dearest to Allah Most High is love for Allah’s sake and hatred for Allah’s sake.”


It is natural for a first wife to have uncomfortable and unpleasant feelings towards her husband’s second wife. Likewise, the most obvious focus of a first wife’s anger is towards the second wife. The first wife should try her utmost to control these feelings whenever they come. She should attempt to treat the second wife as any other sister, with kindness. Allah the Almighty knows how difficult these simple acts can be. However, when we think about the hadith that says that one of the categories of people that will be under Allah’s shade on the Day of Judgment is the one who loves someone only for the sake of Allah, we have a great incentive to struggle our hardest in this effort. On a day when some people will be sweating up to their necks, we have the hope of being in the pleasure of our Lord’s shade.


The above-mentioned hadith are so important to remember. Our sole reason for being here is to please Allah. All of our words and bodily actions should be for Allah. We say this several times a day during our daily prayers. We should try to disregard our emotional feelings and force ourselves to act according to the way Allah would want us to. This includes treating those we may have problems with in the best way, in spite of our disagreements. We should swallow hard and push ourselves to give all of our brothers and sisters their rights.


Giving salaams when we would rather not, smiling when we prefer to scowl, are all ways of showing love for someone only for the pleasure of Allah. These situations put us in a position where we know in our heart that our actions are solely to please our Lord. We are truly doing it only for Allah.


Of course none of us is perfect. Sometimes we fall short of what Allah might demand of us. When this happens, we should follow up our bad deeds with good deeds. If we utter something we should not say or act in a way we should not behave, it would be good to send over a gift or some food. On the authority of Muaadh bin Jabal The Prophet said:

“Fear Allah wherever you are, and follow up a bad deed with a good deed – and it will wipe it out. And behave well towards people.”

Make dua’ for the sister. When this is done, the angels make the same dua’ for you. Attempt to increase your good deeds in general. You can write letters or notes asking for forgiveness for transgressions you may have done that were wrong. You never know when Allah may take you back to Him. On the Day of Judgment you will be happy you tried your best to have your improper deeds wiped away, insha’Allah.


One hadith says that the Prophet (SAW) said:“Reviling a Muslim is disobedience, to fight him is infidelity.”


We are all human. But we are Muslim humans. The difference between the disbelievers and us is that we submit our wills to Allah. Bickering and the like should be avoided to the best of our abilities. It may not always be the first wife who instigates problems, though. Sometimes it might be the second. One hadith says:

“When two men revile one another, what they say is laid to the charge of the one who began it, so long as the one who is wronged does not go over the score.” (Muslim)


Allah says in the Qur’an, retaliate equally, but forgiveness is better. Retaliation for wrongdoing is allowed in Islam so long as we don’t go beyond the original harm done to us.  However, being able to forgive is best of all and Allah knows best.


The Prophet (SAW) used to say according to a hadith: “Oh Allah I seek refuge in You from objectionable character, deeds, passions and disease.” (Tirmidhi)

The issue of jealousy is an interesting one to address. The husband plays such a crucial part in this area. A wife cannot really force her husband to be fair. And most women are uncomfortable with complaining to an elder relative or leader of the community to get their rights, although if the situation is serious enough, that may be her only recourse. The areas where a wife can become jealous are innumerable. They can range from the amount of extra time – even minutes – that the husband spends with the other wife to gifts, groceries, or type of home and furnishings. Even his demeanor with the other wife can become a source of jealousy. The list can go on and on.


Jealousies over natural features Allah may have bestowed upon the second wife and not on the first come in to play as well. A hadith says that the Prophet (SAW) said look at the one below you not above you so that you will be thankful for Allah’s favors on you. Certainly there may be some characteristics that the other wife may have that the first wife will desire to have. If you contemplate the issue, however, there are sure to be things that you have that the other lacks. Physical appearance is just one focus of mutual jealousies, but think about other assets Allah may have blessed you with. Temperament, cooking abilities, crafts, mental talents, education, child rearing and many other skills and qualities are areas you may be more blessed in than the other sister. In the end, though, the most important quality to be thankful for is your level of faith, which manifests itself through your deeds.


To the best of your ability try not to be suspicious.  There is a hadith where The Prophet (SAW) said “avoid suspicion, for suspicion is the most lying form of talk” (Bukhari, Muslim). It is best to take the best conjecture and assume there is a reasonable excuse for your husband’s behavior. Questioning your husband may be the inevitable recourse to allay your concerns and fears of unfairness.  Tactfulness and proper timing are highly suggested. Most husbands, I would imagine, truly fear Allah and don’t want any problems between their wives. For these reasons most husbands try to be fair. There may be times when he falls short of his duty. The wife can handle this in a number of ways. She may choose to discuss her observations with her husband, or she may decide to overlook it with the hope of receiving Allah’s reward. The severity of the circumstances may dictate a sister’s actions. I will say that sometimes if problems are left unsettled and not discussed, they can build to a crescendo to where the sister may be inclined to express herself in an inappropriate manner.


The two sisters themselves should certainly avoid doing things that would arouse jealousy in the other. The temptation to retaliate is quite strong. And after all, there are enough naturally occurring problems in polygamy; creating them is a waste of energy and blessings.


Jealousy, anger, anguish and pain are all feelings that a first wife in polygamy is likely to feel. Whenever you feel these uncomfortable emotions, remember, your sins are being forgiven, insha’Allah. Allah tests those He loves in this life so that they will have paradise in the hereafter.


Umm Janna is a freelance writer of over 30 years and has been married nearly 35 years. Read her complete e-book by visiting Grandma Jeddah’s Bookstore at www.shop.grandmajeddah.com.